November 3, 2008

€œThe Red-White-And-Blue Church
by Pastor George Van Alstine

I’m writing this on Election Day.  This is the perfect time to express these thoughts, because (1) no one can think I’m trying to influence the election; and (2) I don’t know who our next president will be as I write.

There has been much discussion throughout US history about the relationship between Church and State, as envisioned by our Nation’s Founding Fathers.  There has been relatively little talk about the intention of the Church’s Founding Father.  Most recent controversy revolves around what influence the Church should have on the State.  My focus in this article will be the opposite: How are we allowing the Church to be shaped by the State and its secular interests?

I’ve entitled this “The Red-White-and-Blue Churchâ€? based on a clear picture in my mind.  It was the week after the Fourth of July when I attended a meeting at another church.  That church had celebrated America’s Independence Day with great vigor and enthusiasm, since the Fourth fell on a Sunday that year.  The decorations were still up.  Theirs was literally a Red-White-and-Blue Church, festooned with banners, flags and bunting.  For a moment I wasn’t sure I was in a church, but I knew I was in America.

The Church Jesus established was prepared for a hostile world.  “I am sending you out like sheep in the midst of wolves… They will hand you over to councils and flog you… You will be dragged before governments and kings because of Me.â€? (Matthew 10:16-18) The letters of Peter, Paul and John are stories of a Church suffering a great deal for being the Church.  I envision this as the Black-and-Blue Church.  This church was definitely not comfortable with the State and civil society surrounding it.

A few centuries later, the Church did become comfortable.  In fact, when the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, the Church suddenly became the “inâ€? religion.  The interests of the State and the interests of the Church were merged into one agenda.  I envision this as the Purple-and-Gold Church, since those are the colors of royal privilege.  Most Christians at that time thought they had entered into the glory days.  However, history has demonstrated that the Purple-and-Gold Church helped usher in a period of greed, ambition and warfare, which led to the Dark Ages eclipse of both spiritual vitality in the Church and rational enlightenment in the State.

We are Christians.  We are Americans.  We should proudly affirm both, but they are not the same thing.  As Christians we are part of a world spiritual community.  An increasingly shrinking number of our brothers and sisters worship as part of a Purple-and-Gold Church, in countries with a tradition of  close Church/State identities, such as European and South American Catholic nations.  Far more of our brothers and sisters worldwide worship in struggling fellowships of Black-and-Blue churches, ministering to the poor and hopeless under harsh political regimes.

Frankly, the Red-White-and-Blue Church makes no sense to them.  They see no justification for it in the New Testament, and they believe it separates American Christians from the day-to-day struggles they face.  Worst of all, American Christians, under their Red-White-and-Blue banner, support policies that oppress or endanger them and make their situations worse.  Ironically, we end up supporting missions to believers in Third-World countries and governmental policies that actually hurt them.

I hope the Church in America will rethink its role vis-a-vis the State. I would like to see the Red-White-and-Blue Church disappear and be replaced by a new American Church – where the flag that is waved is a flag of many colors, representing the varied people and nations Jesus had in mind when he said,

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…â€? Matthew 28:20